Friday 16th August, 2013 at 2:03pm
Firhill served up another Friday night cracker but Thistle, after having finally taken the lead, were to be denied what would have been a richly deserved three points by a Hearts equaliser with just two minutes of the game remaining.
Following the impressive display and result at Ross County manager Alan Archibald simply said “same again”, selecting the same starting eleven and seven subs for a game that would have seen his side go top of the league, at least overnight, had they won.
Archibald’s faith in his players was rewarded with a sparkling first half display but somehow no goal. Thistle were on the front foot from the very first whistle and at times during the opening 45 minutes they had the Hearts goal under virtual siege as they took complete control of midfield.
A cracking atmosphere inside the ground added to the spectacle and the Thistle fans were celebrating, albeit very briefly, when Kris Doolan had the ball in the Hearts net in the 9th minute. Doolan was on hand to divert a mishit shot from Conrad Balatoni past MacDonald in the Hearts goal but he was correctly ruled to be offside.
The first half was in truth a procession of Thistle chances. Steven Lawless tested MacDonald with a low drive in the 13th minute before a minute later Kris Doolan sent a snap shot just wide of the Hearts keeper’s right hand post.
Former Hearts player Conrad Balatoni nearly scored against his old club when he headed a Stephen O’Donnell cross over the bar in the 19th minute as Hearts struggled to get the ball out of their own half.
As the pressure continued to mount Thistle were again close to an opening goal in the 25th minute. James Craigen collected an excellent Sean Welsh pass before chipping the ball towards the Hearts goal. Unfortunately Kris Doolan wasn’t quite able to glance a header into the net.
Sean Welsh was in excellent form in the Thistle midfield and he was inches away from capping his impressive performance with a goal in the 36th minute with a shot from the right corner of the Hearts box that only just cleared the crossbar.
Still Thistle pressed and still no goal would come. James Craigen saw a fierce shot blocked by a Hearts defender and a first time shot from Kris Doolan, after more enterprising play from Sean Welsh, went narrowly over the bar.
The first half ended as it had started with Thistle well in control and the final action of the opening 45 minutes saw MacDonald again in action; this time saving well from Steven Lawless.
The second half started with Kallum Higgenbotham on in place of Sean Welsh who had picked up a knock just prior to the interval. The pattern of the game, however, changed little. Thistle were quickly into their stride again and James Craigen was close with an angled drive across the body of MacDonald; the ball though going narrowly wide of target.
Hearts though were gradually able to get a foot hold in the game and as the second half wore on Thistle weren’t quite as dominant as they had been in the first half. Chances for the visitors though continued to be at a premium. Danny Wilson, however, wasn’t too far away with a header following a McHattie corner from the Hearts right.
That near thing produced an instant response from Thistle. Gary Fraser crashed a shot just over the bar from the edge of the Hearts box and MacDonald did well to grab hold of a John Baird cross with Steven Lawless waiting to apply the finish.
MacDonald was becoming increasingly hard pressed to prevent Thistle from scoring and he made impressive saves from a James Craigen header from a John Baird cross and from Baird himself whose first time shot after collecting a Fraser pass looked destined for the back of the net.
The pick of MacDonald’s saves, however, came in the 84th minute when he somehow managed to get down to his left hand corner and flick a Steven Lawless effort round the post for a corner.
It was only a temporary reprieve though for Hearts who conceded a penalty from the corner that followed. John Baird was bundled to the ground by Walker and referee Madden pointed to the spot.
Aaron Muirhead was the man to take the penalty and he banished memories of the Ramsdens Cup Final once and for all when he lashed an unstoppable penalty past MacDonald and into the net.
With time running out Thistle surely had the game won now? Not at all. This Hearts side are certainly not lacking in spirit and just three minutes after falling behind they were back on level terms. Jamie Walker was able to make amends for his part in the Thistle penalty when he buried a shot past a helpless Scott Fox.
It was a cruel sting in the tail for Thistle who had again demonstrated that they are more than capable of being an asset in the Scottish Premiership.